Release Date: June 2, 2015Platform: PCDeveloper/Publisher: Blizzard EntertainmentGenre: MOBA
The MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) genre is rather interesting when it comes to accessibility. Once you’ve played one, you can pretty much hop in any other and quickly pick up the basics. To put it frankly, they all sort of mimic League of Legends and DotA 2. You’ll have your laning phases and your team fights. Your goofy-looking minions and your towers that like to shoot you when you’re feeling ballsy.
The similarities between every MOBA make the genre perfect for competitive gamers who want to download a game and immediately get right to slaying. The diverse number of champions and possible builds in every MOBA also make the genre ripe for heavy theorycrafting and complex strategizing.
And then there’s Blizzard Entertainment’s Heroes of the Storm. HotS has been in alpha/beta for a while now, but finally it’s out officially. Blizzard just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play in the MOBA swimming pool, but how does it stand up to what’s already out there?
Bringing New Players Onboard
Most MOBAs are designed to be fairly easy to hop into, but due to the community’s expectations and the intricacies of most metas (in LoL and DotA 2, at least), it can be frustrating to hop in without knowing what you’re doing at a basic level at least. Weighing the pros and cons of which items to buy in LoL can be daunting unless you stick to the recommended items or follow a guide. The concept of last-hitting can seem foreign to someone totally new to MOBAs. Even quickly reading the tooltips for a new champion can be frustrating mid-match. MOBA matches move fast. Once you start playing with actual players, you’re expected to keep up—even if you’re new.
When HoTS players talk about the game to non-players, one of the first terms they’ll generally mention is “casual friendly.” HotS does away with a lot of the complexities we see in other MOBAs. There’s no last-hitting in HotS. EXP is even shared across your entire group no matter who gets the kills. There are no in-match items to buy. Instead, you pick from various passives that affect your traits/abilities as you level, much akin to WoW’s talent tree system. These talent choices are generally rather easy to understand, as are the tooltips.
As someone who isn’t a MOBA pro by any means, I found this ease of access surprisingly refreshing. At the same time, matches in HotS often seem a little predictable. There’s that moment in most LoL matches where the carry will get their final item and suddenly kick all kinds of ass, which helps the game snowball into victory.
With shared EXP and no last-hitting, it’s a little difficult to feel like a real “hero” in HotS. Every hero progresses and levels the same whether they’re a support class or assassin class. This makes it easier to guide new players, but it also makes the system a little monotonous for veterans who enjoy pushing their skills as quickly and early in a match as possible.
There’s also an out-of-match leveling system for every hero. Leveling up favorite heroes grants you additional talent choices, skin choices, gold, and profile avatars. This sort of takes the place of LoL’s rune/mastery system, but it’s not nearly as complex. Less planning and theorycrafting is needed. The good news is that the ease in unlocking every hero talent choice (you only need to level a hero to level 4 before unlocking all of their choices) makes it simple to specialize in a new hero on the fly.
It also makes it a little too simple arguably. Part of the enjoyment of LoL’s system is the buildup factor. When you have a lot to aim toward in a MOBA, you’re likely to put more hours into the game and work on mastering your favorite characters. HotS is definitely aimed toward MOBA players who don’t have a lot of time on their hands. The shorter length of matches is also evidence of this fact (20-25 mins as opposed to 35-40+), along with the presence of daily quests that have a far better gold/time spent ratio than playing multiple matches in a row.
Don’t Stay in Your Lane
Maps are handled completely different in HotS. In LoL, your standard map doesn’t often change and the objectives won’t change at all. In HotS, there are 7 different maps to play on thus far, and each have unique objectives that attempt to encourage players to do other stuff besides poke minions and harass the enemy team. One has you synchronize-click shrines that curse your enemies while another lets the teams compete for doubloons that can to be used to bombard enemy towers. Timing a major enemy push right after an objective is won can make a huge difference.
The fact that each of the maps feature unique objectives is both good and bad. On paper, the different objectives are supposed to mix up gameplay and encourage players to think outside the box and leave their lanes. The objectives also sort of take the place of LoL’s jungler role. Instead of having a carry armed with a super powerful buff that destroys everything, you now have this giant golem thanks to winning that objective that’ll hammer down towers like nothing.
Heroes of the Storm’s map objectives are a cool concept in theory. A team can weigh the pros and cons of going after objectives or farming lanes. It’s sometimes worthwhile to forego the objectives altogether or try and surprise the enemy. Paying attention to the map and who goes where is integral, as is communication, of course. The objectives reward groups who know how to shift their strategies based on how the enemy team handles that map’s particular objectives. There’s also more diversity between matches when the maps are chosen at random.
After a handful of matches on each of the maps, however, some start to feel a little gimmicky and repetitive. Most of the objectives are timed which can add a dose of adrenaline to the match or annoyingly interrupt a great lane push depending on how close the objectives spawn. The fact that the objectives help so much when it comes to pushing lanes and towers can also feel gimmicky. It’s fun to tower dive as your team’s tank. It’s less fun watching a golem do it for you.
Looking Cool and Playing Cool
The hero roster in HotS is fairly diverse despite not having the sheer numbers that LoL or DotA 2 have. Some heroes are easy to grasp (Uther, Valla, Li Li), while others are quite a bit more complex and take more skill (The Lost Vikings, Abathur, Illidan). The difficulty range works well to help teach new players how to play without overwhelming them.
Hero balance, so far, has been rather up and down during the game’s beta phases. Like in most MOBAs, there will always be heroes that are part of favorable comps and shine during particular patches. Unlike most MOBAs, there’s a little more fluidity in who plays what role and who lanes where, etc. The different map objectives help encourage a “looser” meta that should also appeal to players newer to the genre or veterans who are looking to mix up the norm.
In unranked matches, you unfortunately can’t communicate regarding who should play what pre-match, so you could potentially end up with multiple support characters. Sure, you still might be able to choose talents that’ll help steal a victory regardless, but the mere fact that makeup means so little seems a little awkward for a MOBA. It feels a little too homogenized at times.
Some of the talent choices are a little lacking in comparison to the item tables in LoL. Woo, that skillshot now slows enemies. It doesn’t feel more powerful. It doesn’t look more powerful. But boy, does it slow. The talent system lacks depth at times, especially with some heroes like Li Li who never have to use a skillshot or targeted heal (though to be fair, her healing heroic ability [a.k.a. ultimate] is position-dependent).
Graphically, the game looks gorgeous and doesn’t disappoint in that regard. Hero animations are also well designed, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise given how much history Blizzard has with these characters. And yes, I’ll admit it—it’s really fun being able to play as Diablo or Arthas. A game packed with iconic, playable characters is certainly nifty.
HotS also has a great feature that lets you try out heroes before you buy them even if they’re not in the weekly free rotation. This works with skins, too. Any time you browse the shop you can hit “try now” to get sent to an AI-controlled map where you can toy with all of that hero’s abilities and get a feel for them.
Speaking of the in-game shop, there’s a lot of talk about the prices in Heroes of the Storm being rather high. Skin prices seem high, I would agree, but the prices on heroes seem varied and largely comparable to other MOBAs. Some heroes are affordable, but others will cost you a fair chunk of gold and/or real cash. The best way to go about saving money is to prioritize daily quests/leveling and simply take your time picking out your favorites. Make sure to do the tutorials, too, as these reward gold. By being smart about daily quests, the prices of heroes don’t seem ridiculously high.
A MOBA for Non-MOBA Fans
HotS does a lot of things right. Its strongest points are its objective-based maps, its high accessibility, and its iconic, lore-based hero roster. Its weakest points are the multiple leveling systems. The systems are unique, but they just don’t have enough to offer in comparison to most MOBA item/rune/mastery/etc. systems—especially for veteran players.
With Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard has essentially created a MOBA that’s ideal for gamers who haven’t tried a MOBA before or who just want to poke around in one every now and then. It’s a great introduction to the genre with some interesting ways in which it allows players to get a feel for competitive gaming without feeling immediately overwhelmed.